Monday, November 14, 2016

Review: An Orchard of Disconnect

By Michael Block

The Cherry Orchard is back. But why? Sure, thematically The Cherry Orchard resonates but why not produce a new work with the same message? Nevertheless, the Roundabout revival of the Anton Chekhov classic gets a new staging through the voice of the fruitfully blossoming Stephen Karam, yet this orchard is severely lacking.
More than a story of downsizing and class, The Cherry Orchard is not a radical reimagining. Instead, the Simon Godwin-helmed piece is lacking guidance. With a hint of modern sensibility, the story revolves around the decay of Ranevskaya and her family purse as the threat of selling the estate, and the subsequent orchard, loom emphatically. Despite heeding the warnings, Ranevskaya remains frivolous, surprising reality for a sense of hope. Tackling the text, Karam teeters between honoring the original scribe and bringing in his own brilliant voice. The problem is they never connected and united. Those lines where they hear people off stage or call out a person arriving were just as uncomfortable as the actors’ reciting them. Similarly, the inconsistency in style was seen fervently in the direction. Simon Godwin tried to infuse so much into so little. The debate on what is comedic about Chekhov will never cease. The humor that Godwin sprinkled in had shades of physical comedy that can only be related to what a sad Russian sitcom may be. Regardless, the humor was forced and never yearned. The comedy comes through the misfortunate of the characters’ circumstance. Yet we laughed at them, continuing the theme of major disconnect. As a whole, the stakes never seemed genuine. It’s quite hard to even care about these individuals and their given situation. Godwin started the play by asking his company to tap into exaggerated jubilation as a fa├žade for reality. It just didn’t resonate. It created caricatures. And those characters who lived in despair remained there, never straying.
photo by Joan Marcus
Without any nuances, Godwin’s production fell into a pit of monotony. To try to make up for it, the production value was amplified. Yet, Scott Pask’s scenic design lacked the beauty of the orchard. Those metallic branches sadly didn’t cut it. What was a wonderful touch was the tree trunk floor. Blending a simple modern feel with a splash of panache, Godwin’s navigation of the world was muddled. With no architecture to define space, Godwin haphazardly had his characters come and go from room to room. For a text grounded in realism, Godwin defied it. The costume design from Michael Krass seemed to explore a plethora of styles, confusing time. Touching briefly on the live music, while pleasant to the ear, the choice of inclusion never paid off. Yes, they were incorporated into the piece in Act II, but it continued the theme of disconnect.
Thankfully, this production accumulated a stage full of talent. Unfortunately, talent didn’t actually save the day. Diane Lane is effortless as Ranevskaya. Even in her character’s denial, Lane managed to make it seem genuine. Sympathy was earned. Harold Perrineau’s Lopakhin was a strong presence, even in those green pants. But Perrineau seemed to frequently forget to breath in between lines, never quite clocking in the important beats. Kyle Betran is a beacon of hope as Trofimov. Beltran’s connection to the character was sincere. It also showcased Karam’s best work in the play. As adopted daughter Varya, Celia Keenan-Bolger explored angst from top to bottom. Blame it on the character, but it woefully forced her to become unlikeable. Tavi Gevinson was a ball of energy as Anya. Her child-like approach never quite matched the intelligence she infused into Anya. Firs is unfaltering loyal to Ranevskaya, her family, and her estate. Joel Grey captured this well. But he also gave his back to the audience far too many times to be forgiven. Between the moustache and the characterization, John Glover’s Gaev was a cartoon. Even in the moments of sentimentality, Glover and Lane lacked a sibling bond. When it came to the sitcom physical comedy, Susannah Flood was a highlight. Yet Flood was simultaneously lost as Dunyasha.
The Cherry Orchard is a play of comedic misfortune. This production sadly was a laundry list of misfortune. With the amount of disconnect within, this revival never truly blossomed.

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